9 June 2010

THE KILLER INSIDE ME (Dir. Michael Winterbottom, US, 2010) - 'There are things that have to be forgotten if you want to go on living.'

Winterbottom's latest genre foray is a splendid film but it continues to be overshadowed by the controversy currently being amplified by the media's deliberately motivated focus on the violence directed towards the women in the film. Touted as a faithful adaptation of American crime writer Jim Thompson's novel, The killer inside me is a very grim, realistic character study that operates in the murky realms of film noir but also draws upon elements from the western genre. I'm not sure if I entirely agree with the knee jerk reaction that the film has received largely from the conservative media. Many newspapers have simply labelled the film as misogynist, calling an end to the whole thing. The violence depicted in the film towards the two female characters played by Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson did make me feel uncomfortable and it is very brutally played out but of course we have to ask ourselves is it justified? and is there an appropriate context for such violence? The answer I feel to such pertinent questions is undoubtedly yes but it is quite illuminating to see the split between the press and mainstream film journals, many of whom have tried to appreciate the film's on artistic merits whilst also debating the role of violence in the film. The press in many regards have really gone for Winterbottom on this one, drawing parallels with the recent furore created by Lars Von Trier and Antichrist. Yet why is it that one of Britain’s finest directors can only get press coverage when his films provoke controversy? In this case, the attention Winterbottom's film has drawn in the media for its representation of violence seems to only confirm a cultural snobbery that circulates in the press regarding film in general. Nothing new there then.

Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman’s comment on the film is one of the few 'sensible' defences that I have come across in the press, emphasising that ‘domestic violence really is brutal’. The violence regularly depicted in American cinema especially Hollywood films is either heavily sanitised or appears as a bombastic spectacle in which somebody being punched, shot or exploding into smithereens is somewhat ideologically chic. I think it is pretty obvious that Winterbottom intended to make the spectator feel uncomfortable when watching the violence yet such is the heinous context, the consequences of such violence perpetrated by the central male character is questioned throughout. It is not good enough for critics and the press to reduce Winterbottom’s film down to the two sequences in question as it not only misrepresents the content of the film as a whole but it polarises opinion, thus stifling any robust room for a proper debate on why exactly the director refused to sanitise the violence. Having said that, I don’t think this is one of Winterbottom’s stronger works as it seems to lack direction and the ending didn’t really work for me. However, like most of his films, one can still take plenty away in terms genre and authorial concerns. A couple of reference points in terms of American cinema and film noir included nods to such classics like Chinatown, Dennis Hopper’s hugely under rated The Hot Spot, Kiss Me Deadly, The Grifters, Detour and even shades of Hitchcock’s Shadow of Doubt.


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